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Here's Robert Fisk on the latest wave of US missile strikes and an
[unpublished] letter that I sent to the Independent which draws some
parallels with the 1993 missile strikes on Iraq.


The Independent, Saturday 22nd August 1998.

 As my grocer said: Thank you Mr Clinton for the kind words 

by Robert Fisk 
.. Talk of an "international terrorist conspiracy" is as exotic as the
Arab belief in the "Zionist conspiracy" ..

If there is one thing that enrages the Arab world about the United States
government - apart from its betrayal of the principles of the peace
process, its unconditional support for Israel, its enthusiasm for
sanctions that are killing thousands of Iraqi civilians and its continued
presence in Saudi Arabia - it is the administration's habit of telling
Arabs how much it loves them. 

Before every air strike, the President assures his future victims how much
he admires them. Ronald Reagan told the Libyan people that America
regarded them as friends - then he unleashed his bombers on Tripoli and
Benghazi. George Bush waffled on about Iraq's history as the birthplace of
civilisation and America's friendship for ordinary Iraqis - before bombing
every town and city in Iraq. And this week, as his missiles had just left
their ships in the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf, there was Bill Clinton
telling the people of the Middle East that Islam was one of the world's
great religions. 

As my Beirut grocer put it to me yesterday - his smile as crooked as his
message - "it's good of Mr Clinton to tell me about my religion. It's
always nice to be informed that religion doesn't condone murder. Thank
you, Mr Clinton." 

My grocer was not being polite. Clinton's admonition from the White House
- "no religion condones the murder of innocent men, women and children" -
came across in the Middle East as patronising as well as insulting, coming
as it did from a man who is embroiled in a sex scandal. "That filthy man"
is how he was called by an Egyptian over the phone to me yesterday,
although the Arabs have not grasped the complexities of Mr Clinton's
adventures with Miss Lewinsky (mercifully, there is no word for "oral sex"
in Arabic). 

What was immediately grasped in the region yesterday, however, was the
ease with which the Americans could once again choose an enemy without
disclosing any evidence for his guilt and then turn journalists and
television commentators into their cheerleaders. "I was so sickened by the
constant use of the word 'terrorism' that I turned to French radio," a
Palestinian acquaintance told me at midday. "And what happened? All I
heard in French was 'terroristes, terroristes, terroristes,'" 

He was right. Almost all the reporting out of America was based on the
accuracy of the "compelling evidence" - so "compelling" that we haven't
been vouchsafed a clue as to what it is - that links Osama bin Laden to
the ferocious bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Several times yesterday, I
had to interrupt live radio interviews to point out that the journalists
in London and Washington were adopting the US government's claims without

The plots in which bin Laden is now supposed to have been involved,
according to the Americans, are now taking on Gone With the Wind
proportions. Bin Laden, we are told, was behind not only the US embassy
bombings, but also the earlier bombing of US troops in Dhahran,
anti-government violence in Egypt, the New York bombings (for which the
culprits are all supposedly sentenced and jailed), and now - wait for it -
an attempt to kill the Pope. Is this really conceivable? The fact that all
this was taken at face value by so many reporters probably says as much
about the state of journalism as it does about American paranoia. 

The use of the word "terrorist" - where Arabs who murder the innocent are
always called "terrorists" whereas Israeli killers who slaughter 29
Palestinians in a Hebron mosque or assassinate their prime minister,
Yitzhak Rabin, are called "extremists" - is only part of the problem.
"Terrorist" is a word that avoids all meaning. The who and the how are of
essential importance. But the "why" is something the West usually prefers
to avoid. Not once yesterday - not in a single press statement, press
conference or interview - did a US leader or diplomat explain why the
enemies of America hate America. Why is bin Laden so angry with the United
States? Why - not just who and how - but why did anyone commit the
terrible atrocities in Africa? 

Clearly, someone blew up the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam.
They may have been suicide bombers, but they must have known that they
were slaughtering the innocent. Their deeds were wicked. But they were
not, as one US diplomat called them, mindless. Whether or not bin Laden
was involved, there was a reason for these dreadful deeds. And the reason
almost certainly lies with US policy - or lack of policy - towards the
Middle East. "How can America protect its embassies?" a US radio station
asked me last week. When I suggested it could adopt fairer policies in the
region, I was admonished for not answering a question about "terrorism". 

For what really lies at the root of Arab reaction to the US attacks on
Sudan and Afghanistan is that they come when America's word has never been
so low; when the Arab sense of betrayal has never been greater. America's
continued military presence in Saudi Arabia, its refusal to bring Israel
to heel as it continues to build Jewish settlements on Arab land in
violation of the Oslo agreement, its almost lip-smacking agreement to
continue sanctions which are clearly culling the civilian population of
Iraq - Arab fury at this catastrophe is one reason why a normally
compassionate people responded with so little sympathy to the bombing of
the US embassies. After all this, being lectured by Mr Clinton and then
bombed by him was like getting a kick in the teeth from a man who has
already stabbed you in the back. 

Bin Laden or not, it is a fair and fearful bet that the embassy bombings
were organised by - or at the least involved - Arabs. And the culprits
should be found and brought to justice. But Cruise missiles do not
represent due process, as Mr Clinton knows all too well. Talk of a massive
"international terrorist conspiracy" is as exotic as the perennial Arab
belief in the "international Zionist conspiracy". Bin Laden is protected
in Afghanistan by the Taliban. But the Taliban are paid, armed and
inspired by Saudi Arabia. And Saudi Arabia is supposed to be America's
best friend in the Gulf, so close an ally that US troops are still
stationed there (which is, of course, Mr bin Laden's grouse). Could it be
that powerful people in Saudi Arabia, a fundamentalist and undemocratic
state if ever there were one, support Mr bin Laden and share his desire
for a "jihad" against America? This is one question the Americans should
be asking. 

Bin Laden himself was obsessed for many months with the massacre of
Lebanese civilians by the Israelis at the UN base at Qana in southern
Lebanon in April 1996. Why had Mr Clinton not condemned this "terrorist
act", he asked? (In fact, Bill Clinton called it a "tragedy", as if it was
some form of natural disaster - the Israelis said it was a "mistake" but
the UN concluded it wasn't). 

Why had the perpetrators not been brought to justice, bin Laden wanted to
know? It is odd now to compare bin Laden's words with those of Bill
Clinton just 48 hours ago. They talked much the same language. And now
their language has grown far more ferocious. "The United States wants
peace, not conflict," Mr Clinton said. He is likely to find little peace
in the Middle East for the rest of his presidency. 


My letter to The Independent [the status of the "recent reports" is

The recent reports that 6 people in Pakistan - a country that was not even
host to an intended target - were killed in the latest US missile strikes
should come as no surprise to those familiar with recent history.

Thus, on June 26th 1993 President Clinton ordered a similar missile attack
Iraq. Twenty-three Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at an intelligence
headquarters in downtown Baghdad. Seven missed their target, striking
a residential area. Eight civilians were killed and a dozen wounded. Among
the dead were a man with his baby son in his arms. On his way to church
the next day the President opined that "I feel quite good about what
transpired and I think the American people should feel good about it".

That attack was announced as a retaliation for an alleged Iraqi attempt to
assassinate ex-President Bush on a visit to Kuwait. In public, Washington
claimed to have "certain proof" of Iraqi guilt [this time the talk is of
"convincing evidence"] although the New York Times
later reported that "Administration officials, speaking anonymously" had
said "that the judgement of Iraq's guilt was based on circumstantial
evidence and analysis rather than ironclad intelligence".

All of which is forgotten - like the fact that the camp
in Khowst, which the American's bombed, was originally set up by the CIA
to train Afghan (and Arab) guerillas in their war against the Soviet
army - despite Ms Albright's recent statement, which you quote, that "The
memory of the United States is very long".

The simple truth is that the United States is acting as judge, jury and
executioner - in flagrant disregard for international law.

As for Clinton's high-flown rhetoric about the US leading "the world's
fight for peace, freedom and security" if he wants to end the activities
of "one of the
most active terrorist bases in the world" why doesn't he close down the
notorious School of the Americas ?
[For a list of past graduates see]
Gabriel Carlyle
Junior Research Fellow
Magdalen College
Oxford OX1 4AU.

tel. 01865-276012.



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